Hood basics: What firefighters need to know to about breathability and durability

Improved comfort goes hand in hand with increased protection and durability


Every department wants protective gear that will help firefighters to be safer and more operationally effective. More than ever before, head protection is a crucial element of the PPE ensemble, with some models now providing both thermal protection and a barrier to particulates. With new materials and designs, today’s firefighter hoods bear little resemblance to those of 5 or 10 years ago.

It’s just science: Research makes the case

Research conducted by the FDNY, along with research sponsored by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), collected and evaluated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), found that hoods provide thermal protection to the head, face and neck and can also help reduce accumulation of potentially carcinogenic particles in these vulnerable areas.1,2,3 As a result, the 2018 revision of NFPA 1971: Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting differentiates between simple protective hoods and protective barrier hoods.

Cut to provide improved coverage at the neck and shoulders, modern fire hoods also have greater under-helmet comfort even during firefighting operations. (Photo/Seth Lasko)
Cut to provide improved coverage at the neck and shoulders, modern fire hoods also have greater under-helmet comfort even during firefighting operations. (Photo/Seth Lasko)

Firefighting hood materials

A common myth about firefighting hoods is that you have to decide between a lightweight hood with limited protection or more protective hood that is thicker and heavier, producing greater heat stress. Today’s hoods include new materials and designs to offer increased protection along with increased fit and comfort. Hoods made from a variety of new materials, even those with particulate blocking features, have improved moisture vapor breathability helping to increase comfort while at the same time reducing heat stress.

Fire hood design and manufacture

Firefighter hoods are constructed with far better fit to the head, neck and face. Cut to provide improved coverage at the neck and shoulders, they also have greater under-helmet comfort even during firefighting operations. They have larger opening sizes for the SCBA facemask with improved elastic materials for better seal with less movement or sag. New designs, such as single or multiple layers, allow a wider variety of choices in weight, protection, durability and price.

Wear and wash

Like any component of the personal protection ensemble, hoods should be washed after every exposure to products of combustion. New hoods are manufactured for their fit, comfort and protection to last through many, many wash cycles, if proper PPE cleaning guidelines are followed to avoid damage and cross-contamination. These cleaning guidelines include:

  • Use washing machines and solutions designed for cleaning and decontaminating PPE ensemble components;
  • Wash only with other protective hoods or PPE ensemble components;
  • Do not use dry cleaning chemicals or processes;
  • If using a tumble dryer, use a low-heat setting, less than 105 degrees F;
  • Do not dry hoods or other PPE ensemble components in the sun as UV light can degrade protective materials; and
  • Make sure hoods are fully clean and dry prior to storage and re-use.

Fire hood durability

When properly cared for, many of today’s hoods are designed to last through well over 100 washes. Like any PPE component, hoods should be inspected prior to use and after every wash cycle. Hoods are virtually never designed to be repaired or altered from their original design. While modern hoods are typically far more durable than early designs, when they are found to be damaged, they should still be immediately removed from service and replaced.

Final thoughts on hoods

Today’s fire service demands more of every component of personal protective equipment, and hood manufacturers have responded with drastic improvements in comfort, features and durability for the most important part of the firefighter.

References

1.   Prezant, D. J., Malley, K. S., Barker, R. L., Guerth, C. & Kelly, K. J. Thermal protective uniforms and hoods: impact of design modifications and water content on burn prevention in New York City firefighters: laboratory and field results. Inj. Prev. 7, i43–i49 (2001).

2.   Jay Hill & Jim Hanley. Fluorescent Aerosol Screening Test (FAST) Test Report, commissioned by the IAFF, conducted by Research Testing Institute (RTI). (2015).

3.   The Interagency Board. Recommended Actions Related to Reducing the Known Risk of Cancer in Fire Fighters. (The Interagency Board, 2016).

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